Silver Spays: Spay and Neuter for Senior Pets

There are so many reasons to love senior pets. They enjoy naps and cuddles and lazy days on the couch. They’ve been with us through thick and thin, and love us unconditionally. And we love them. Which is why it is so important for us to do what is best for them, and whatever they might need to live as long and healthy a life as possible. And that means getting them spayed or neutered. 

If your pet has made it into their senior years (which is around 7 years old for dogs, and 5 years old for cats) without being spayed or neutered, you might be wondering if it is really necessary. After all, they have made it this far without issue. What would be the point? 

For younger animals, the primary benefit of spay/neuter surgeries is the prevention of accidental or unwanted litters. And while this remains true for seniors, perhaps an even more important consideration is the prevention of disease and other serious health concerns. 

Studies have repeatedly shown that cats and dogs who have not been spayed or neutered have a higher risk of cancer and other fatal infections. For example, cats who have not been spayed or neutered are more likely to contract and spread diseases like feline leukemia virus (FeLV) or feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV). Female cats have a higher risk of mammary and uterine cancer. 

Meanwhile, dogs who have not been spayed or neutered are at risk of developing many different cancers. Female dogs in particular are at risk of developing a fatal infection known as pyometra, especially if they have given birth to puppies at some point in their lives.

Ensuring a senior pet is spayed or neutered can help them live an even longer, healthier life free from deadly and debilitating diseases. 

And consider the increased risk if somehow, for whatever reason or accident, your senior pet were to become pregnant. Pregnancy and delivery is difficult at any age, but it especially so for older animals. Senior pets are more likely to have difficult pregnancies and deliveries. Their litter may be compromised, and they themselves may experience severe or even fatal complications. 

Fortunately, a routine spay or neuter surgery can improve their overall health and prevent those harmful pregnancies. And the good news is there is no age limit! A pet is never too old for spay or neuter surgery. However, you should consult your veterinarian. Pre-operative care, including bloodwork to assess kidney and liver function and an overall health exam, will help your veterinarian determine whether your pet is healthy enough for surgery. 

You might also be wondering whether surgery would be more harmful than helpful for older animals. In this case, the (many) benefits far outweigh the (very few) risks. 

While the health benefits are many, the potential dangers of surgery are few. There is always some risk involved in any surgery, but the good news is that senior pets have nothing to fear. The biggest difference between surgery on a younger versus an older animal is recovery time. Similar to senior humans, senior animals may need a little extra time to recover, meaning only that they should take it easy in the days following their surgery. However, most animals are fully recovered within 10-14 days of surgery.

As with any medical procedure, you will want to be mindful of pain management and give medications exactly as prescribed by your veterinarian. But with the right post-operative care and follow up, there is nothing to stop a senior cat or dog from undergoing spay or neuter surgery.

While it is never too old to get the job done, the health benefits of spaying and neutering early cannot be overstated. The earlier the better! Puppies and kittens should be spayed or neutered before they reach five months of age. At that age, they bounce back incredibly quickly and hardly know they even had a procedure! For this reason, United Spay Alliance proudly promotes Feline Fix by Five, a program of United Spay Alliance and Marian’s Dream, to increase awareness and access to early spay and neuter surgeries. 

We spoke with Cindy Bernard, Catmobile Program Manager at the Merrimack River Feline Rescue Society (MRFRS) about her experience providing spay and neuter surgeries. The Catmobile is a mobile low-cost spay/neuter clinic. They also provide free or low-cost vaccinations and microchips. To date, the Catmobile has done over 66,000 surgeries.

Cindy confirmed that age is not a factor when it comes to spay and neuter surgery, but rather overall health. Which is why her number one tip for folks with senior pets is to stay on top of their routine veterinary care. Regular checkups and veterinary care is important for all animals, but especially so for seniors. Keeping senior pets as healthy as possible will go a long way toward their general health and longevity. She highly recommends services like Petco’s veterinary clinics which offer very reasonably priced packages for regular veterinary care as well as low-cost vaccination clinics.